Most of us understand the value of personal renewal moving into a new year, especially when it’s the start of a brand-new decade. Like me, I’m sure everyone wants this decade to turn out to be a “roaring twenties” rather than a “torrid twenties”. Although there are of course many factors we can’t control, there are loads of choices we can take to improve our odds of a happy and fulfilling year and decade.
Many of you will have got into the habit of setting goals and resolutions relating to work, physical fitness and lifestyle at the start of each year. However, most people in my experience don’t apply the same discipline in setting goals and commitments to improve their emotional and psychological health. Yet, these are arguably the most important drivers of our happiness and success. Emotional and psychological health provides the ‘fuel’ to help us achieve our career and life goals. It can also make us more resilient, optimistic and self-confident.
Here are 7 keys to help improve your emotional and psychological health for the coming year and set you up for your best decade yet.
Discover your purpose and stick to it
People who discover their purpose and stay true to it are far more likely to be committed and engaged at work. They find deeper meaning in their work and have a clearer vision of what they want to achieve. This instils a deep sense of commitment and enables them to focus their skills and talents on what they are most passionate about. Studies show that when people have a clear and meaningful purpose and apply their natural talents to work towards this, they are far more likely to enjoy work, perform better and achieve greater career success.
Master your mindset
All of us will experience setbacks and difficulties during the year, although the nature and emotional intensity of these will vary significantly. Never allow yourself to become a victim of negative thinking and adverse circumstances. If you do, you’ll soon enter a vicious cycle of low self-confidence, pessimism, helplessness, and eventually depression. Remember that you are free to choose your mindset and how you respond to any situation, no matter how difficult.
Even in the darkest moments when nothing seems to be going right, we have the power to find a positive way forward and not to be defined by setbacks, mistakes and adverse circumstances. We can all learn from the great wisdom of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who pointed out in his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Challenge your inner critic
All of us have an inner critic, even the most outwardly confident and successful celebrities, leaders and entrepreneurs. But some learn to control these inner gremlins effectively while others find themselves overwhelmed by them.
Don’t let your inner critic – limiting voices of self-doubt and fear – get the better of you. Listen carefully and write down the negative, limiting things you say to yourself. Treat these as if they were being said by an external person who is not fair, supportive or rational. Challenge and question these points as if you were disputing something someone has said which is unfair or unjustified. Reframe these negative statements as positive, empowering ones. Write down these positive statements and look at them everyday before work and whenever you are experiencing episodes of self-doubt or anxiety. Over time, your negative narratives will be replaced by the positive ones.
Mix with people who are energy multipliers
Research indicates that people’s emotions and mindsets are contagious. Spending time with people who are upbeat, resilient and solutions-oriented will provide you with a positive and supportive network. Over time, this will multiply your positive energy, growth and effectiveness, leading to greater happiness, wellbeing and performance.
On the other hand, if you hang out mainly with negative, ‘glass half empty’ people who sap your energy and add no value then it’s likely you’ll develop a negative outlook to work and life. It’s best not to get sucked into this vortex of negativity unless you want to spend all your time struggling through life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid friends and co-workers who have temporary setbacks and difficulties that cause them to experience inevitable emotional lows and difficulties. Always stick by these people and show compassion, empathy and support to help them through their difficult patch. This builds trust, openness and emotional closeness, all of which are pre-requisites for meaningful, satisfying and emotionally mature relationships.
Don’t leave decluttering to the springtime. Decluttering your house and office at the start of each new year enables you to simplify your life. It will leave you feeling invigorated, unburdened and satisfied. Studies show it can also boost your self-esteem, focus and quality of thinking. According to Marie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering evangelist, tidying can transform your life and make you happier and more productive. It enables you to get rid of unnecessary possessions that don’t add value to your life as well as those that are associated with unhappy memories from the past. Gifting these items to a charity or person who needs them more than you will raise your spirits, as research shows that people derive happiness and joy by helping others. However, make sure you don’t go overboard and throw away possessions that have deep sentimental meaning and attachment to you, as getting rid of these might undermine rather than improve your emotional wellbeing.
Focus on what’s going well
Many people keep themselves so busy at work and home that they don’t take time to slow down and notice the good things happening in their life and around them. For example, we often fail to spot our co-workers doing great work or a friend or partner making a special effort on our behalf. Many even fail to notice and celebrate their own learning, progress and professional achievements. They simply move on to the next thing and lose a valuable opportunity to enjoy the scenic ‘lookout points’ in their relentless quest to conquer the next peak. Take time to notice and be grateful for these special moments, however small, as this will enhance your wellbeing as well as the happiness of those around you.
Ditch negative news and social media
Put yourself on a news and social media fast for a few weeks or become more selective about the types of media you consume. A lot of our traditional and online media pedal primarily negative news that gives rise to unnecessary anxiety, concerns and worries, undermining our positive emotional health. The reason of course is simple – negative stories generally sell better than positive ones.
Similarly, many social media platforms spread negative news, fake news and extreme views and opinions. This negatively biased content impacts our perspective about what is real and heightens our perceived threat level towards the world around us. Some platforms also encourage unhealthy peer-group comparisons that leave people feeling they are inferior, unsuccessful or missing out. Taking a break from this negativity and refocusing your time on positive experiences (e.g., reading, learning a new skill or starting a new hobby) and people will enable you to build a positive and healthy mindset.
Finally, remember that a happy life also requires a healthy diet and regular exercise so don’t forget to include these in your list of goals for 2020. Wishing you all a happy and successful 2020.
About the Author
Leadership Consultant | Executive Coach | Business Psychologist
James has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders and organizations internationally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He has worked with leaders from diverse sectors, countries and cultures. Clients have included Commvault, Equinor, Gilead Sciences, GSK, PhotoBox, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Novo Nordisk, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Yahoo! and WSP.
James has set-up and successfully grown several of his own businesses, including Strengthscope®, a global strengths assessment and consulting business. As Joint Founder and MD, he grew Strengthscope® into a market leader before selling his stake in the business in 2018.
James is a regular speaker on leadership, coaching, assessing and developing talent and the future of work. He has contributed a wide range of publications in these areas. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can transform their organizations by inspiring people to shine and deliver exceptional results.
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